Ever have a really difficult person in your life? I see all those heads nodding out there – and a few hands in the air. So, many of us can agree: Difficult People are a difficult challenge. Dealing with them sometimes proves so challenging, in fact, that some folks exit, stage left, rather than continue to engage with someone so… difficult.
Let’s just get this out of the way. Some people are mentally ill, and not interested in getting treatment. There, I said it. Sometimes, these people are in your workplace or in your neighborhood or in your gym or in your family tree. This article is not about how to deal with the mentally ill – no, that’s for another writer in another venue.
This article is about how to deal with the run-of-the-mill Difficult Person who gets on your last nerve. You know who I’m talkin’ about.
They’re the people who annoy you with their incessant, inappropriate chit-chat, or stymie your plans with pointless roadblock after pointless roadblock. They run late, they’re absent-minded, they can’t “move on”, have body odor, halitosis and are way too needy.
Guess what? They all have something in common — they’re not doing what WE think they should be doing. They should shut up, go along, get along, let us lead, remember stuff, shower, brush their teeth and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. If only they’d do what WE want them to do, they’d be so much easier to get along with!
The difficulty is that they don’t do what we want them to do, do they? And we invest a lot of time and energy trying to get them to be different than they are, don’t we? Hey, let’s accept it — we can’t control them. But we can control ourselves. So, boys and girls, what you’ve got to do is check your own expectations and motivations to see why you react to the Difficult Person the way you do.
One of the best tools I’ve used to help clients deal with Difficult People is this: take a piece of paper and write down everything your Difficult Person does to drive you up the wall. Don’t leave anything out, don’t censor yourself, don’t hedge. Let it all hang out.
Feel better now? So nice to get that off your chest, right? OK. The hard part. Go back through the list. Anything there something you wish you could do, or something you dislike about yourself? I had a client who was cheesed at a brown-nosing co-worker, who she called “Miss Thing”. Seems Miss Thing would walk down the hall, see the boss and say, “Charlene, want to get some lunch?” – and proceed to have coveted one-on-one time with the boss. My client was irate! Who did Miss Thing think she was?
I asked my client to write down everything she disliked about Miss Thing and then go back through it. The proverbial light bulb appeared overhead. “Someone once told me I ought to know my place, and not be too big for my britches,” she said. “I am afraid of being seen as too forward.” I queried, “So, it’s not so much about Miss Thing, is it?” “No,” she responded, “it’s that she’s doing something I wish I could do.” Yes, my young Jedi – that is exactly the problem.
It’s ultimately not so much about the Difficult Person, it’s about you. Understanding yourself makes the behavior of others easier to manage. You may come to find that you don’t mind somebody else brown-nosing, or running late, or being weird. After you get to that point it’s mind over matter — if you don’t mind, it don’t matter.
Keep author Byron Katie’s advice in mind: “There are three kinds of business in the world: your business, my business and God’s business.” Getting into someone else’s business is a futile exercise. Waiting for someone else to change is likewise pointless. Let me tell you this: there is no magic incantation you can make, no string of words you can utter, to get someone to change his ways.
Change? That’s their business. And your business? Simple. It’s what you choose to do about yourself and for yourself. Difficult People are only difficult when you mistake your business for theirs.